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Code enforcement officer recognized for bravery

By Joel Hall

While Clayton County Lead Code Enforcement Officer Kristen Taylor's job often involves confrontation, it rarely requires her to put herself in immediate danger.

The county's police and fire departments recognized Taylor this week for going beyond the call of duty to protect homeowners in a Morrow neighborhood from a residential fire.

On Wednesday, during a code enforcement sweep, Taylor spotted smoke rising from a house at 6635 King George Way. Upon further investigation, it became apparent that fire was beginning to overtake the home, she said.

"I was driving, checking on my officers," Taylor said. "They were doing a blitz and I was just checking on every one of them. I just saw smoke coming out [of a nearby house]. I thought they were barbecuing, because it was light smoke at first, but then we saw smoke coming out of both sides of the building."

Taylor called 911, but upon approaching the home, heard screams coming from the living room. Without a mask and without protective clothing, she rushed into the home, in order to save whoever might be trapped inside.

"I think what was the screaming, was a TV that was in the living room," Taylor said on Thursday. "The sound of somebody screaming is what made me go in. I never expected to be exposed to that. In my mind, I kept thinking, what if it is a child or an elderly person who was trapped and couldn't get out."

Firefighters appeared on the scene at about 1:40 p.m., to put out the blaze. While the house was badly damaged, no victims were found inside, according to fire department officials.

Maj. Doug Jewett, of the Clayton County Police Department's special services division, which oversees code enforcement, said code enforcement officers are not sworn to protect as police officers and fire fighters are. He said Taylor's actions went beyond the call of duty.

"It goes beyond the job description of a code enforcement officer," who typically gives citations for improperly kept homes, Jewett said. "It's not unusual for Officer Taylor to perform above expectations ... but it wouldn't be expected for anybody here to run into the building and put themselves at risk like that. I'm proud to know that I have folks working for me that don't turn away from a situation like that."

Chief Blaine Clark, battalion chief of the Clayton County Fire Department, said Taylor's quick action helped firefighters prevent the fire from engulfing neighboring homes. He said the department will recommend that Taylor receive a Chief's Award later this year.

"She knew exactly what to do to get us out there quickly," Clark said. "Normally, the police officers do a lot and will help us evacuate buildings. There was a heavy amount of smoke and heat coming from the house, so for her to enter without any protective clothing, it was very admirable for her to do that."